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Barroso 2.0: The New Commission’s Foreign Policy

Recently, in Bulgaria we finally started talking about EU’s Foreign Policy. The occasion, of course, was the portfolio of Rumyna Jeleva, Bulgarian commissioner-nominee for the Barroso 2.0 Comission. The discourse on European foreign policy however did not reach further than whether Bulgaria has received more than before or less than Romania. Perhaps both are true, but it is vital to look deeper into the changes in the Commission before speculating about the relative weight of the different portfolios.

New Roles and Functions
The most important novelty undoubtedly is merging the RELEX (external relations) Commissioner (still Benita Ferrero-Waldner) with the Higher Representative. Xavier Solana occupied in the last 10 years both the seat of Higher Representative and the Secretary General of the Council (hence the acronym HR/SG). The latter is a position that is rarely in the spotlight, while it has important organizational competences and can significantly agenda set and influence Council’s outcomes.

It is important to note that even though Solana occupied both positions, his substitute Ashton will not be in the same situation. Instead Frenchman Pierre Boissieu, until now a deputy SG, takes the lead of Council’s administration. The loss of this important authority for Ashton is compensated with the competence to set up from scratch the European Eternal Action Service. The British Baroness will have to kick start the European diplomatic service and until April should present a detailed plan to the Council. Critics doubt the successful leadership, given the limited diplomatic experience Ashton has. This however is more a matter of speculation than one of analysis.

Pooling together the foreign policy functions of the Council and the Commission has a key role for the global image of Europe. Until now the two institutions were blamed for not talking to each other and for not coordinating the ‘Common’ foreign policy of the Union. Now both of them will ‘row in the same boat’ and hopefully in the same direction. The boat will be operated by Catherine Ashotn, who will be double-hatted, being at the same time an HR and a vice-president of the Commission. This boat, however hosts a number of other commissioners with foreign policy portfolios, so here comes the moment to discuss the Bulgarian one.

In short, besides the RELEX and the CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy, governed by the Council) which are under Ashton’s competences, in the EC we have the following roles: development and humanitarian aid; enlargement; trade and finally neighbourhood policy (in its many different names). These policies coordinate a lot of funds through DG Europe Aid and the Euroepan Development Fund.

Europe Aid and Development

In the new Commission Barroso split ‘Humanitarian Aid and Development’ into two parts. The Belgian Karel de Guht, responsible for it so far, takes over ‘Trade’ and stays among the group of foreign policy commissioners. ‘Development’ on the other hand ‘goes’ the Latvian Andris Piebalgs (Energy commissioner now), while ‘Humanitarna Aid’ is given to Rumyana Jeleva. To add to this Jeleva’s portfolio gets ‘international cooperation’ which may be interpreted as the GD EuroepAid (AIDCO) and ‘crisis response’, referring mostly to natural calamities and activities to mitigate their consequences.

DG Europeaid is a key unit, which coordinates EU’s aid to third countries, drawn from the Commission Budget, It also has competences regarding the additional funds the member states give for development. It was equally logical that this DG goes either to Jeleva or Piebalgs, with the only difference being that the biggest part of the money are spent for development as opposed to aid. In reality, however, Europeaid goes to the Czech commissioner Stefan Fuele, which seriously enhanced his portfolio (see below for details). Piebalgs on the other hand gets the supervision of Europeaid’s money spent for development.

One way or the other, humanitarian aid and development draw funds often from the same sources. Besides, their goals are complementary to one another, which makes splitting this portfolio into two very artificial. It also suggests coordination trip-ups for the new Commission. Additionally, as Jeleva has no say in EuropeAid, the name of her portfolio also becomes unreasonably long since it is not clear what ‘international cooperation’ will stand for.

As a matter of fact, DG Neighbourhood was structured entirely by people previously working in the much larger before 2004 DG Enlargement. After the Big bang in 2004 the same people had to keep their work and the administrative model was transferred to the new DG. It started working with the closest eastern EU neigbours – Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and most recently Belarus. This is how the EU continued the working manner ‘one size fits all’ even when it comes down to countries with zero chances and ambitions to join the Union.

Going back to the personal set up of the new Commission, the already significant portfolio of Stefan Fuele was upgraded with EuropeAid. With this his functions exceed the close EU Neighbourhood. It seems the Czech Presidency played its cards quite well in the first half of 2009 since this is the new EU member state with the most important portfolio, if we do not count Romania.

Rowing in the same boat?

All the changes in the Commission undoubtedly show that even though the Council and Commission are getting administratively closer to each other with the new position of Catherine Ashton, inside the Commission things are different. To add to this, the new SG will also have influence over the agenda, expertise and priorities of the Council.
Van Rompuy , the new EU President, will take part in the foreign policy making as well. His role of “the broker” will have key importance as the positions of the Council give the directions of the rest of the Units involved in foreign policy making. The sweetest addition to this mélange is the existing rotational presidency of the Council. This institution will be retained and it is not very likely that PM and foreign ministers of the future presidencies will willingly give up their influence over EU’s foreign policy.

Despite the Lisbon Treaty’s aims at building a Common foreign policy with a single EU image for the rest of the world, this is very unlikely to happen in the next few years. The main reason for my doubts is the surprising appointment of key decision-makers, who have little background in security, defence and high-politics diplomacy. Besides, the fragmentation of portfolios in the Commission makes “the common” foreign policy hard to achieve. Without a truly independent and critical expertise, high diplomats as EU special representatives and more attention to the lessons learned in EU missions and negotiations, the EU foreign policy may not get the desired push forward

  1. January 7, 2010 at 13:34

    The part on “DG Neighbourhood” needs some corrections, I am afraid.
    It is true that it comes from DG Enlargement, starting as “Wider Europe”, but moved to DG RELEX (External relations), not as DG but as a Directorate (D in fact). The name is European Neighbouthood Policy (ENP, http://ec.europa.eu/world/enp/index_en.htm). It was there next to the units dealing with the countries concerned.
    In return the part dealing with the countries in the Balkans in DG Relex moved to DG Enlargement.
    The Directorate, dealing with the coordination of the ENP, now goes back to DG Enlargement while the rest of DG RELEX will move into the new European External Action Service.

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